Hello July: Berries, Weeds…and a Lunar Eclipse!

blackberrySummer is here. No question. The dog days of August arrived early this year. Trust me. With two canines lying flat on their sides on the cool concrete of the porch, too enervated to even wag their tails at me, I know it’s true.

I can’t complain too much. After all, July is my birthday month (the 6th!) AND our anniversary month (the 7th!) and…. the month of berries and freestone peaches. Hurray! July also brings back that cherished, although awkward, memory of the lunar eclipse of 1982. Anybody else remember that? I boiled down that long-ago experience into an ultrashort flash essay that Mental Papercuts just kindly published in their Issue 1.5, Weird Summer Vibes. If you’re hankering for wildly creative, off-the-wall summer stories that may bring back memories of your own, please check it out.

Three poems of mine also appeared today, more writing inspired by the summer. “What the Weeds in My Yard Taught Me About Social Justice” and “September Raspberry” bloomed in the Summer 2019 issue of Gyroscope Review. And “Pulling Up the Wild Blackberry Bushes” just unfurled in the July issues of the gorgeous O.Henry and Pinestraw magazines, both of which are distributed in locations across the state.

As a reminder to all my writer friends, July also marks the halfway point for what we hope will be a productive year of writing. Now’s the time to start penning, gulp, other seasonal pieces (think: Halloween and Christmas) and most importantly, setting goals to improve.

Chinese fortune cookies are fun, not always prescient, but they can be surprisingly profound. Here’s one just for you. Of all our human resources, the most precious is our desire to improve.

So what are you doing to get better? For me, it means leading two workshops this summer at The Joyful Jewel because I learn as much, if not more, from my fellow workshop participants as they do from me! It also means taking a memoir class led by Dorit Sasson through Women on Writing, my favorite space for online writing classes.

I’m a little nervous because I’m new to the field of memoir (and a beginner in the world of creative nonfiction) but the good news is that I’ve got lots to learn. This means I’ll never be bored!

Stay cool, eat your berries, and set your own improvement goals!




When is Teacher Appreciation Day? Every Day!

Upon of learning of the 80th birthday of one of my favorite junior high school teachers, I was curious to learn if there is a national Teacher Appreciation Day. After all, the breadth and depth of national holidays astounds: Sweet Potato Day, Umbrella Day, Hug a G.I. day, there’s even a Peanut Butter Day. To my relief, (please excuse my ignorance), there is indeed a day of celebration for teachers; this year it will be May 8. 

But as I reflect, I wonder if one day is enough? I firmly believe that the teachers I know—my own, my friends and my colleagues at UNC-Chapel Hill—should be honored every day. The gifts they give are the most enduring because of their ability to see the potential in young people and to spark within us a lifelong path of learning. My soon to-be-80 language arts-social studies teacher is special because of his passion for ideas.

Yes, we memorized facts; yes, we diagrammed sentences (ugh); and yes, we wrote papers (thank you), but the knowledge I retained was more profound than that. In his classroom, we were free to talk about ideas previously reserved for adults: politics, death, love, betrayal, even teen pregnancy and addiction. In fact, the examination of ideas was required. Our reading list was edgy, especially for the times: Death be Not Proud, Flowers for Algernon, and Watership Down. But my teacher was brave and he knew that the value of exposing young people to ideas far outweighed the risk.

To be clear, teachers aren’t perfect; they would be the first to decry such a label. They are human and within that scope lies the full range of virtues and foibles. But because of their life’s work, the best of them have a nobility that no other profession can match. I think of another great educator, a man for whom I was fortunate enough to write a speech or two for in my time, the teacher-governor, James B. Hunt. He was fond of quoting that old axiom that goes: “You never stand so high as when you stoop to help a child.”

So here is to my beloved junior high teacher and all the great ones who followed him. Without their influence, and with no disrespect to farmers and truckers, it is safe to say that a great many of us would indeed be sitting at home naked and hungry.